Parking meter

Investigative reporter solves Oklahoma City traffic problem

Carlton 'Carl' Cole Magee (Fayette, Iowa, 1872 - Oklahoma City, 1946)

Carl Magee had been in a thriving law practice in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for seventeen years when he settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1919 with his wife and three children. His wife Grace had weak lungs and urgently needed a drier climate.

Magee was 47 and thought Albuquerque, with its 15,000 residents, had enough lawyers. He had always dreamed of publishing a newspaper: 'A newspaper that would tell the complete truth, about everything. And then I would see what happened.'

He set his sights on the Morning Journal, a daily newspaper with a circulation of 7,000 that had been purchased the year before by Republican Senator Albert Fall and his wealthy Republican friends to secure Falls' re-election to the Senate.

And that was successful. Fall told Magee he was eager to sell the newspaper because he was in debt and his ranch needed a makeover.

Magee bought the paper, installed a new press, hired an excellent young reporter, and set to work to fulfill his dream.

Officials in Albuquerque did what they wanted, it turned out, prisoners were cheated and starved, money earmarked for education flowed into Senator Fall's bank account: plenty to write about.

Within days, the Senator burst into Magee's office with the words, "Stop it or I'll put you on the rack and break your neck." Magee found that five editors-in-chief had been bullied before, but he liked this kind of situation.

His newspaper wrote in a historical review eighty years later: 'Magee was a tall, slender man with blue eyes and an angular jaw who would not be intimidated. Death threats did not stop him from exposing corruption cases.'

At the beginning of 1921 Albert Fall of all people became Federal Minister of the Interior and a short time later it seemed as if he was swimming in the money. Magee's investigation led to what has gone down in American history as the Teapot Dome scandal.

In exchange for hefty bribes, Fall had privately leased two oil-rich areas of the state to oil barons. After much legal wrangling – lawyer-journalist Magee was even able to speak as far as Washington – a judge sentenced Minister Fall to a year in prison.

Fall was the first member of the "presidential cabinet" in US history to go to jail for acts committed while in office.

Fall's political friends, bankers and judges, retaliated and destroyed Magee's newspaper. But it began imperturbably in 1922 with the publication of the weekly magazine Magee's Independent.

With on the front page the interesting section 'Turning on the Light' (loosely translated 'Do the light on') in which he, as usual, brought dark matters to light.

At the bottom of the page was a line from Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy: "Make light and men will find their own way," with a drawing of the rising sun below it.

David Leahy, a Las Vegas judge and Fall's friend, felt it was time to teach Magee a lesson and took him to court over and over again on libel charges. Magee often received severe sentences, and the Democratic governor of New Mexico lifted them time and time again.

Between those decisions, Magee occasionally spent a night in jail. Friends brought him food and kept watch outside, fearing he might be poisoned.

One day, Magee was being interviewed in the lounge of a Las Vegas hotel when former Judge Leahy walked in. He was furious because he had not been re-elected as a judge because of the journalist. Leahy rammed Magee, knocked him down, kicked him over some ribs.

Crawling on the floor, Magee drew his revolver and fired several times. He hit Leahy in the shoulder, but a man who tried to intervene fell dead. Magee was acquitted, but he spent the rest of his life thinking he had killed an innocent man.

He sold his newspaper, but remained editor-in-chief. In 1927, the board made him editor-in-chief of the Oklahoma City News and that's how he ended up in Oklahoma City.

Traffic problem in Oklahoma

There he became a member of the Chamber of Commerce in the 1930s. Oklahoma City businessmen asked the journalist to come up with a solution to the city's parking problem in 1932. Between 1913 and 1930, the number of cars in the state had risen from 3,000 to 500,000. Early in the morning oil workers and servants took over all of the parking lots in the city center, and local trade suffered.

You couldn't get close to the shops by car. Magee developed a crude timepiece model and then teamed up with engineering students at the University of Oklahoma. A match yielded nothing. Collaboration with the recently graduated engineer Gerald Hale is.

They developed a simple mechanism whereby a red plate appeared after inserting a five-cent coin (a nickel). After an hour that picture disappeared.

They named it Black Maria, apparently after an existing slot machine. 'If there is no picture to be seen, the traffic police will write a ticket', warned a newspaper report in those days. A local plumber fabricated the casing.

Magee took out a patent on it on May 13, 1935 and, together with Hale, founded a company called Magee-Hale Park-O-Meter (POM). On July 16, he already delivered the city of Oklahoma City the first 175 meters. At the same time he resigned as editor-in-chief. He was then 63.

Magee was proud, he told the press, that everyone was equal for his parking meter: 'The parking meter has no favorites. The public will appreciate this.' He was the son of a Methodist minister and two of his brothers were ministers.

He too had always wanted to improve the world. He had initially trained as a teacher. All his life he had fought for civil rights and exposed corruption as an investigative reporter. But the American citizen did not thank him for that parking meter.

The little machine was un-American, it violated human rights, the verdict was. Motorists put all kinds of rubbish in the slots; two couples put a nickel in the meter, pulled out the table and chairs, and played a game of bridge in the parking lot.

All of America followed the legal proceedings brought by some residents. The governor of North Dakota has banned all parking meters in his state. But the meters in Oklahoma City remained. In 1951 the US had more than one million parking meters.

As director of his Park-O-Meter, Magee went to the office every day. Even after he contracted a severe flu in early 1946, at the age of 74. He was hospitalized on January 23. On January 31, he died of a heart artery rupture.

The media group EW Scripps, which had bought Magee's newspaper, adopted Dante Alighieri's special phrase for all its newspapers – albeit changing the image of the rising sun into a lighthouse, today the logo of the entire company.

POM Inc. still exists and distributes the many derivatives of Magee's parking meter, from digital parking meters to payment options by text message.

It took almost thirty years for the parking meter to cross the Atlantic Ocean: Great Britain in 1958, Belgium and the Netherlands in 1962.

The first parking ticket

In Oklahoma City the following story is told about the first parking ticket. A month after the installation of the first parking meter, Pastor CH North of Oklahoma City's Pentecostal movement arrived by car in downtown.

He parked in front of one of the newfangled Park-O-Meters.

August is always very hot in Oklahoma. He got out of his car, wiped the sweat from his brow, and read what to do. He had to put a nickel, a five-cent coin, in the meter. He searched his right hand in his left pocket.

He found a few pennies, 10 and 25 cent coins, and a few dollars. No nickels.

He sighed and shuffled to the nearest store, a grocery store, to get some change. When he returned to his car moments later, there was a piece of paper on his windshield: a parking ticket, the first parking ticket in world history.

A few weeks later, he explained to the court how he had simply been looking for the right change. Also with this explanation – an excuse? – he was a pioneer. And the judge lifted the fine.